Financial Security and Reducing Inequality in the Caribbean: Government Role — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:36 am on 8th March 2023.

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Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 10:36 am, 8th March 2023

Yes, a colourful way. Denzil Douglas would be very proud of the way that the hon. Member for Norwich South conducted himself. I think it was in the same tradition. We recognise that.

We want to work with the Caribbean to solve shared problems, from climate change to gender inequality. We share important values, which is why, in partnership, we are taking steps to promote democracy, peace, prosperity and opportunity. Of course, many of our friends in the Caribbean region are part of the unique Commonwealth family of nations. Members have rightly highlighted the threat of climate change to the region. As small island developing states, the countries of the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and economic shocks.

These are challenges that we must help to address, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic and Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. The war may feel quite distant from the region, but it has big implications for the cost of energy, fuel and, for some in the area, fertiliser. As stewards of the ocean, Caribbean countries have a vital role to play in tackling climate change and protecting biodiversity, and I welcome the historic achievement at the United Nations at the weekend of a new treaty to protect marine biodiversity—a huge step forward that was acknowledged around the world.

The UK’s vision for small island developing states, or SIDS, is set out in our international development strategy. We want to help them build economic and climate resilience by 2030, by supporting them to adapt to climate change, improving access to finance and preventing biodiversity loss. I will spend more time on access to finance later. Of course, that requires other countries and international organisations to share our vision. The fourth international conference on SIDS next year will be a key moment for the global community to come together and commit to action.

We continue to pursue an overseas development aid programme in the Caribbean region, focusing on strengthening disaster and climate resilience in eligible countries. We had a long debate on overseas development aid in this room a couple of weeks ago. Around £35 million a year is devoted to building climate-resilient infrastructure, to help countries withstand natural disasters and recover faster from catastrophes such as hurricanes. We are also supporting better access to employment for vulnerable groups, and fostering small and medium-sized enterprises.

The UK is also supporting climate action and disaster response by strengthening the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and social protection systems. Through the UN’s EnGenDER project, we are working to address gender inequality in climate change and disaster response work. We also support the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica, whose goal is for Dominica to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation. Meanwhile, eligible Caribbean countries can also access two dedicated programme funds for SIDS, totalling £76 million, to help them benefit from international finance and realise the potential of marine economies.

The hon. Member for Leeds North East highlighted the situation in Haiti, which is a source of real concern to us both. There are implications not just for the people of Haiti, but for the region as a whole and beyond, because of the potential impacts of irregular migration and the violent activity that could flow should the situation deteriorate even further. We are actively engaged with the UN Security Council on that issue. We encourage international partners to work together to assist in Haitian-led efforts to tackle underlying causes of gang violence. We have seen positive progress on the ground, with economic and political accords, which are unusual on that island. The UK is funding multilateral partners, contributing more than £20 million each year to development in Haiti, including programmes to improve the resilience of infrastructure to natural disaster.

I want to come on to the importance of development finance on a global scale. We are working with partners towards reform of the international financial institutions to make more capital available, including to Caribbean countries. That is pivotal to the Caribbean and a subject I have discussed with many interlocutors. I am determined that we make progress across all SIDS, but particularly, given the role that I hold, in the Caribbean. As set out in the Glasgow climate pact, vulnerability criteria should be considered by multilateral organisations, including the World Bank, in their financing and allocation decisions.

We welcome innovation and reform in that regard. The new drive launched by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the very important Bridgetown initiative, aims to do just that. We are working closely with her and getting behind the drive to reform international financial institutions. We are demonstrating leadership in financial innovation, such as climate resilient debt clauses, which will allow Caribbean countries to suspend repayments to UK Export Finance in the wake of a climate disaster such as a hurricane. We are shaping initiatives to expand the amount of development and climate finance available from multilateral development banks by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Those are very significant opportunities, which I am sure people recognise across the House. We are also working to get more subsidy for climate for middle-income countries and SIDS. We are engaging actively with the development of the new loss and damage fund agreed at COP27, which was raised by Patrick Grady. That is absolutely important. We are part of a 24-member transitional committee; the first meeting is happening at the end of March. We will work closely on that vital area.

We are also keen to help drive economic growth through trade and investment. We recognise China’s interest in the Caribbean and we are working closely to focus on trade and investment opportunities. Others have talked about illicit finance. Work is ongoing with our overseas territories, and the Government and the Treasury are providing support in the form of technical expertise to tackle those challenges.

I am delighted that my predecessor as Minister for the Caribbean, my right hon. Friend Jesse Norman, launched British International Investment’s first Caribbean investment when he visited Jamaica last autumn. That will build a new wave of investment in clean, green infrastructure, bolster businesses, create jobs and boost trade. We are also working with our Caribbean partners to ensure that the terms of our economic partnership agreement are fully implemented to boost trade.

My hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski mentioned the importance of duty-free trade. Our economic and partnership agreement with the Caribbean Forum countries provides duty-free and quota-free access to UK markets for all goods. We are working with the Governments in the region to ensure that the agreement is fully implemented. We can talk more about that separately.

The hon. Member for Norwich South made a really important point about the legacy of slavery. I would like to say some important words on that subject, which means a lot to many people in this room. I have listened with care to the points that have been made today. Slavery is abhorrent. We acknowledge the role of British authorities in enabling the slave trade for many years before being the first global force to drive the end of the slave trade in the British empire. We deeply regret this appalling atrocity and how it harmed so many people. We acknowledge that the wounds and feeling on this issue run very deep.

We believe that the most effective way for the UK to respond to the cruelty of the past is to ensure that current and future generations do not forget what happened, that we address racism, and that we continue to work together to tackle today’s challenges, such as climate change, through the initiatives that I have set out. Those need to be hard-hitting initiatives that will make a difference in people’s lives and help Caribbean nations move forward.

We have had a series of positive engagements with our friends across the Caribbean over the last year. I mentioned my predecessor’s visit to Jamaica. In November, I was privileged to visit the Dominican Republic, the largest economy in the region, for a packed agenda of high-level meetings on trade, environment, security and many other issues. My colleague the Minister for Overseas Territories, Lord Goldsmith, was in Guyana last week. All these activities are designed to help build relationships and to move the agenda that I have talked about forward.

I plan to make a further visit to the region before the end of the month, and numerous senior leaders from Caribbean countries have visited the UK recently, including Prime Minister Skerrit of Dominica, who I was honoured to meet two weeks ago. We look forward to hosting Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth member countries next week, and to the UK-Caribbean forum and the UK-Jamaica strategic dialogue in May.

The UK will continue to work with our partners in the Caribbean to empower people, protect the environment, address climate change and boost prosperity. We will also use our voice on the international stage to advocate for issues that are important to Caribbean countries. That is how, together, we will make progress on challenges and make the most of the valuable opportunities that our deep and long-standing friendships in the region have to offer.